Report: Federal authorities should create guidelines on less lethal weapons

A new report examines the use of less lethal weapons and specifically highlights the need to study their use and for police forces to have a manual to follow – something the report says has been sorely lacking for years. (Credit: iStockphoto)

By Michael BalsamoAssociated press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The federal government should study how police use less-lethal weapons, like tear gas and pellet guns, and offer guidance to law enforcement across the United States as officers find themselves often with little information beyond the manufacturer’s guidelines, according to a new report from one of the nation’s leading police research groups.

The report – released on Friday by the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization dedicated to improving professionalism in policing – examines how police departments handled the thousands of protests and civil unrest across the United States in the summer. 2020, after George Floyd was killed at the hands of officers in Minneapolis.

The report offers 38 recommendations for police departments on how to handle protests, civil unrest and violence that occurred during unrest. It is based on interviews with police chiefs, reviews of after-action reports, and analysis of intelligence and other police reports. Recommendations include improving training, preventing mass arrests, improving communication both internally within the police force and with the community during protests, and conducting thorough reviews after protests. in large scale.

But the report also looks at the use of less lethal weapons and specifically highlights the need to study their use and for police forces to have a manual to follow – something the report says has been sorely lacking for years. . Now the group recommends that the Department of Justice’s research arm, the National Institute of Justice, begin examining their use and offer resources for law enforcement on when and how to use the weapons.

The use of such weapons, like tear gas, pepperballs, flash bangs and smoke bombs, has become a flashpoint in the 2020 policing debate after dozens of incidents. protesters and members of the media hit by projectiles or caught in clouds of tear gas were unleashed on mostly peaceful crowds.

Tear gas has often been used as a defensive tool by law enforcement to disperse rioters. But during nationwide protests in 2020, federal, state and local law enforcement sometimes used it offensively and in some cases directed it at large crowds with peaceful protesters, as opposed to those who commit violence.

“All that kind of stuff, pepper spray, CS gas, beanbags, rubber bullets, in many cases departments hadn’t used that kind of equipment in a while,” said Chuck Wexler, director police executive. Research forum. “And the key thing is, in after-action reports, significant concern about how and when police deployed these less-lethal weapons.”

The group began to examine whether there were any guidelines or standards for the use of less lethal weapons. While some police departments have developed their own policies on when to use such force, many only have manufacturer’s guidelines, Wexler said.

The report recommends that the National Institute of Justice “conduct significant research on this to determine the limitations and best practices for this type of equipment,” Wexler said.

“There is no playbook that exists today for American police in the use of this type of equipment,” he said.

City after city, police chiefs reported that as the protests grew, they saw something they hadn’t seen in decades of protest management – by day the crowds were huge but largely peaceful, and at night there was a significant escalation in violence during the protests.

During the protests, protesters and others reported serious injuries after police used less lethal weapons on crowds, including broken bones, traumatic brain damage and temporary blindness after being struck by projectiles shot by police.

A photographer covering a protest in Minneapolis was blinded in one eye after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet. A TV reporter in Louisville, Ky., was hit with a pepperball live on TV by an officer who appeared to be aiming at her. The Justice Department has since launched sweeping civil rights investigations to examine the practices of the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, including their response to the protests.

Police across the country were also injured when they were hit by bottles, rocks, bricks and cans of soup thrown at them in the crowd.

The report also notes that even so-called soft projectiles “can cause serious injury, even death, and can be difficult to target.”

The report also recommends that police provide clearer instructions to protesters when ordering them to disperse from an area. As well as giving advance notice that they will use force, the report advises police to issue specific instructions, such as ordering protesters to exit to particular streets or leave a park through a certain exit, as well as ‘a delay.

In Lafayette Square outside the White House, protesters who were forcibly removed by police before then-President Donald Trump marched to a church near the White House for a photo op, said they did not hear the U.S. Park Police order them to disperse in front of federal agents. unleashed a flurry of smoke bombs and pepper balls on the peaceful crowd.

Wexler said he spoke with Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who oversees many Justice Department offices, including the National Institute of Justice, and that she was receptive to the recommendation and agreed. stated that examining these issues was a departmental priority.

The Department of Justice did not make Gupta available for interview. In a statement, the Justice Department said Gupta has not yet seen the report and that the department will “review it as part of our ongoing work to advance community and officer safety.”

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